[OT] What is Open Source? (long)

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters mertz at gnosis.cx
Thu Aug 15 03:37:56 CEST 2002

|> The only problem with this belief is that it is completely, totally,
|> 100% wrong.  A copyright is, quite simply, a legally enforced artificial
|> monopoly--not a contract.  These are quite different things.

"Ken Seehof" <kseehof at neuralintegrator.com> wrote previously:
|I agree that a copyright is artificial, but not that it is a monopoly,
|since a competitor is free to independently create information of similar
|or greater value and sell it at a lower price or give it away for free.

I'm free to write and publish "a book about multiple murderers in
Kansas", but only Random House can publish _In Cold Blood_ with legal
sanction.  In fact, I am pretty sure that Truman Capote had no legal
rights in the matter after 1959 (nor do his heirs following his death).

There's really no way to describe what Random House has as anything
other than an artificial monopoloy on that work.  Even with my own
printer, my own ink, doing my own typing, the cops will knock down my
door if I try to sell a printed copy of those words.

Being allowed to write -some book on a similar topic- really misses the
point here.  Even that possibility is seriously limited by copyright--
see the case about Alice Randall's _The Wind Done Gone_ (which was
banned for fictionalizing a "similar subject matter" as a copyrighted
work--one which is only copyrighted because of excessive term extensions
anyway).  But a similar book is simply not the same category of
product... this would be similar to claiming that a monopoly on bricks
is impossible because wood and cement are also building materials (or
for that matter, like claiming that a monopoly in cable data services is
impossible because DSL provides a different way of transmitting data :-(

The monopoly Random House holds is not on "information" generally, but
it -is- on a particular bit of information for which nothing else
is a meaningful substitute.  Books by different authors are not
interchangeable in the way that 2x4's from different lumber mills are.

|Whether or not it is a contract depends on whether you believe that we
|live in a democracy, which is a whole 'nother debate.  If this is a
|democracy, then copyright law is a contract among all citizens.

I think Ken needs to learn what a metaphor is, and what is literal.
Even supposing I live in a democracy (in the USA), I never agreed to the
"contract" of copyright law.  Heck, I never even read any such contract.
And if I had been presented with the opportunity to read such a
contract, I would refuse to sign.  Moreover, even inasmuch as I cast
votes, I vote against the candidates who enact copyright laws
(well... OK, I admit there are other issues I balance with this).

If all my neighbors get together and agree that I *ought* to sell 20
bushels of corn to Mr. Smith for $250, that's not a contract I have
entered into.  Not even if they all sign their names on the form.  Not
even if $250 is a good price.  In fact, not even if I *want* to sell my
bushels at that price.  A contract is something I've actually been
presented with and affirmatively endorsed (in writing, or even
verbally).  None of that ever happen with copyright laws.

Now MAYBE if you squint just right you can imagine that copyright law is
kinda-sorta a little bit like a contract.  And voting is vaguely in the
same ballpark as contracting.  But these a very weak metaphors at the
very best.

|The author of the book may choose to release the content of the book to
|the public domain.  So in effect, any restriction is mandated by the
|author, not the state.

A driver can choose to drive 55 mph, so therefore any restriction of
road speeds is mandated by the driver, not the state.  Nope, it doesn't
make any more sense that way.  An owner of tchotchkes can choose to give
them away, so therefore any restriction on theft is mandated by the
trinket owner not the state.  Nope, still not working.

Yeah... people can act several ways within the confines of the law.  The
law is not thereby an invention of those who obey (or break) it.

|I can (and do) produce open source and public domain software.  The
|state has no power to limit distribution of that software.

I don't even understand this.  The state enforces restrictions on the
distribution of your (public domain) software relating to trademark,
copyright, patents, cryptography-export, libel, false-advertising
claims, and lots of other restrictions.  Quite possibly, YOUR particular
software isn't covered by these restrictions... because you decided to
only create software in conformance with the many legal restrictions
that exist.

|Likewise if somebody has machine that can produce an unlimited
|quantity of corn and teleport the corn instantly to every location on the
|planet, it would be in the interest of society that the corn replicator
|be made available to everyone for free.  Many would, of course, argue
|that the owner of the corn replicator is evil for hoarding and selling
|corn for a price rather than giving away free corn to everyone.

Yeah...  I would be even less fond of the militaries and police forces
that conduct door-to-door searches to find anyone suspected of building
a corn replicator, and throwing them in dungeons.

Frankly, if the some guy wants to "hoard" his corn replicator, I really
don't care one way or the other...  UNLESS the state imposes an
artificial monopoly on corn replicators, and uses violence to prevent
non-hoarders from building corn replicators.

|My company is developing a commercial software product that will save
|musicians around the world many hours of time.  The total development
|time is about six man months or 1000 hours.  We will price the software
|at $189.00.  If we sell 1,000 copies we will be adequately compensated...
|There isn't any way that I can think of for this product to be developed
|as open source at this time...

I can think of a way.  It's not conceptually hard.  I'm not claiming
this should be your business plan, or that it is easy if -nothing else
in the world- changes at all.

Get a organization devoted to the promotion of music to understand the
benefit of this software to musicians.  Let's call this organization,
hypothetically, the National Endowment for the Arts.  Or the
organization could be a guilde or association of musicians themselves.
Get the organization to commission the development of a public domain
software product with a grant of $189x1000 ($189/hour seems like pretty
generous compensation for a programmer, to me... but let's assume that's
what's fair).  The programmers get paid.  Every musician in the world
benefits (well the ones with computers or the right sort, who want to
make the sort of music the software helps with...).

Yours, Lulu...

mertz@  | The specter of free information is haunting the `Net!  All the
gnosis  | powers of IP- and crypto-tyranny have entered into an unholy
.cx     | alliance...ideas have nothing to lose but their chains.  Unite
        | against "intellectual property" and anti-privacy regimes!

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